CASTLEWOOD, S.D. (KELO) – For Peter Books, the past year has taken forever and flown by at the same time.
Books, superintendent for the Castlewood School District, said damage from May 12, 2022, is still visible a year later. Friday will mark the one-year anniversary when an F2 tornado caused millions of dollars worth of damage in Castlewood.
“We’re starting our rebuild next week with putting up three more block walls where the old gym used to be,” Books told KELOLAND News. “Our plan this summer is to be able to put our kitchen, lunch room and two locker rooms back together and use those in the fall.”
The tornado in Castlewood was one of 16 tornadoes reported in South Dakota by the Aberdeen office of the National Weather Service. The derecho produced more than 150 damaging wind reports, 59 significant wind gusts (75 mph or higher) and resulted in two deaths in South Dakota. The National Centers for Environmental Information listed the May 12, 2022 derecho as a billion-dollar disaster event.
While the damage from May 12, 2022, was widespread, Castlewood received the biggest hit on that day and recovery from the tornado continues. Books said Castlewood has made good progress in a year, but he remembers the challenges from a year ago.
“First of all, we were very grateful that nobody was seriously injured or killed,” Books said. “It was very challenging to figure out what to do in the next few days and what to do in the next few weeks. The administration and school board needed to focus on August 24 and how we are going to hold school on August 24.”
Books said many students lost homes in the tornado, while others have memories of being in basements when the tornado came through. For the elementary school that was hit, Books said the initial demolition phase lasted the first six weeks of summer. Elementary school started in local churches but moved into modular classrooms before Thanksgiving.
“I would say our students were so excited to come to school on the first day, I think they were just really happy to be here,” Books said. “Our school board has been very supportive and amazing in this process. We’ve had a number of meetings and a number of hard decisions that they’ve had to make. Our community has been so supportive for us.”
Books said Castlewood students will finish the year on May 22.
In March, two school bond questions failed in a public vote. The first one was $6 million, which includes new and expanded classrooms, a new gym and other updated spaces. The second bond question included additional add-ons if the first bond passed. Both failed, and the first one was just shy of 15 votes.